Rumours about illegal cash filling the franchise owners’ coffers had started surfacing way back in 2010. And the government had begun to take cognisance of it. It was on the morning of 19 April 2010 that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee called two of the seniormost officers of the Enforcement Directorate to his sprawling office in Lutyens’ Delhi and asked them to start investigating, along with the CBI, the Income Tax and the Economic Offences Wing (EOW), financial irregularities in the hugely successful IPL and its big boss, the flashy arrivisté Lalit Modi.

Mukherjee had heard about a series of allegations against Modi and his confidants, and the way they were handling the cash in the tournament. There were signs of match-fixing, betting, money-laundering and rigging of the bidding process, and Mukherjee wanted a thorough probe.

The following year, India was set to host the ICC’s signature tournament, the 50-over World Cup, and he wanted to clean the game before that. Even as the finance minister began to read some of the notes in a file prepared by his colleagues, a senior official from the Income Tax department, standing close by, had an interesting remark to offer: “The investigations, sir, must start with the Big Three.”

Who are they, are they involved in these financial irregularities? Mukherjee wanted to know. The officer nodded. The men being referred to were Manoj Badale, chairman of Rajasthan Royals, Venu Nair, CEO of World Sports Group, and Sundar Raman, COO of IPL. They had all, at different times, been questioned by IT officials for tax-related issues.

Worried, Mukherjee sought a meeting with Home Minister P Chidambaram and Agriculture Minister and former BCCI supremo Sharad Pawar to discuss the matter. Details of the meeting were not shared with waiting reporters. All Mukherjee would give away were five words: “No one will be spared.” And then he walked into his car and was driven off.

The heat was on.

While Lalit Modi got ready for some extensive grilling by ED, IT and EOW officials, much of which happened over tele-conferencing because he was in London to escape what he called “threats from the cricket mafia”, Badale was questioned in Delhi over Modi’s alleged hidden stake in the Rajasthan Royals team. Nair was interrogated for being part of a murky television deal that helped a Singapore-based middleman earn a whopping Rs 400 crore in commissions while Raman was quizzed for allegedly sourcing illegal funds into the IPL.

The BCCI, surprisingly, remained silent throughout. Badale found support in co-owner of Rajasthan Royals, actress Shilpa Shetty, who defended him by saying, “The RR stakeholder is clear as crystal.”

The muck was coming out, though many remained unsure whether the investigators would actually be able to catch the big fish and stem the rot. Time was short as India got ready to host the ICC World Cup and investigations had to slow down as every so often top BCCI officials required to testify were hardly in their seat. All were busy travelling to ensure the World Cup, jointly hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, was a success.

But what was interesting was that ever since the investigations were launched, a number of people came forth with stories of what looked like rampant insider trading at every level of the IPL’s business.

A Disciplinary Committee Report submitted to the BCCI by Arun Jaitley found Lalit Modi guilty of being involved in “bid-rigging” by favouring two specific parties, the Adani Group and Videocon, during the IPL franchise bidding process in 2010. The Adani Group had been a long-time commercial partner of the Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA) that was headed by Narendra Modi in 2010; Modi was replaced as GCA president by Amit Shah in 2014.

The panel found that Lalit Modi had introduced two “unreasonable and onerous” clauses in the final draft of the Invitation to Tender without the knowledge or approval of the IPL Governing Council (GC) in a deliberate attempt to restrict the number of bidders. The two contentious clauses that were not part of the original draft approved by the GC – said the report – called for the bidder to have “a net worth of US$ 1 billion” and “to give a bank guarantee of Rs 460 crore”.

Only two bids were received, and upon receiving complaints from other aggrieved parties – Sahara and Dainik Jagran – the BCCI decided to scrap the tender. Jaitley was BCCI vice-president when the report was submitted and the others in the committee included Jyotiraditya Scindia and Chirayu Amin.

“While incorporating such conditions, Modi did not seek the approval of the Governing Council. The object of such unreasonable conditions was to exclude healthy competition and favour two bidders which is evident from the fact that only two bids were received pursuant to the ITT,” the report said.

In his defence, Lalit Modi backed the net worth clause by insisting that since franchises became “cash positive” only in the eighth year, it was crucial that they had “deep pockets”. “The condition of bank guarantee is sought to be justified on the ground that it ensured the stability of the IPL,” the report said.

While admitting that he had inserted the clauses, Modi claimed he had received an oral approval from then BCCI president Shashank Manohar for the two conditions. But the report concluded that “Modi had only informed the President about the changes and he did not read the onerous clauses”.

Amit Shah, then the powerful home minister of Gujarat, had reportedly asked Adani to bid for an IPL team for Ahmedabad. This was confirmed on April 15, 2010 by former Gujarat Cricket Association president Narhari Amin, a Congress leader, who went on record to say both the Modis, Lalit and Narendra, had been keen to get Ahmedabad a team but failed. In a spirit of camaraderie he added, “If they – Shah and [Narendra] Modi – had sought my advice and not acted as novices, I would have told them to get more industrialists involved and up the stake.”

This was not all. A similar inside story landed on the table of the ED and IT officials from one Sanjay Dixit of Rajasthan who was once a confidant of Lalit Modi. Dixit revealed what the ED claimed to be concrete evidence to nail Modi who, Dixit alleged, was involved in manipulation of land deals in Rajasthan and routed payments and equity stakes worth crores of rupees using offshore entities.

IT and ED officials also questioned Deepa Raizada, the CEO of Modi Entertainment, and Samir Thukral, founder of Delhi-based Shree Capital Advisors, both confidants of Modi. Thukral, believed to own an online lottery business and a private jet, had already been named in several real-estate scams across India.

The charges were indeed serious. Yet the BCCI made no move to have Lalit Modi repatriated from London and tried in the courts in India. Why didn’t the BCCI bosses push the envelope? Were they worried that hauling the man who loved to call himself India’s Don King over the coals could mean more skeletons tumbling out of the closet?

Rumours were rife that the governing council of the BCCI was split wide open over whether to call back Modi for interrogation for his role in laundering cash in the IPL, which The Guardian of London described as cricket’s biggest social, sporting and commercial phenomenon that earned a whopping $4.13 billion turnover in three years flat.

IPL insiders say Modi – who is seeking advice from a top public relations firm (in addition to Adfactors PR) – remains upbeat about the investigations and says he has nothing to lose. Time and again, he has openly challenged the BCCI top brass, blaming them for ganging up against him and making him “the fall guy” to save their own skins.

“Lots in media – all speculations. Welcome all investigation. Ready to extend all co-operation,” Modi tweeted from London. Those who knew him were not surprised.

Excerpted with permission from FIXED! Cash and Corruption in Cricket, Shantanu Guha Ray, HarperCollins India.